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A Closer Look at Emotional Intelligence and Transformational Leadership

The relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership

Think about the leaders that you’ve encountered in the workplace. Did they lead through merely assigning responsibilities and directing tasks, or did they engage with the needs of others and work to motivate positive and valuable change in their people, and ultimately their organisation? The latter is a sign of transformational leadership; a leadership style that strives to inspire authentic and collaborative change by enhancing motivation and performance in others.

But what factors contribute to transformational leadership?

Well, according to research, there is a clear relationship between the traits needed for effective, transformational leadership, and a person’s emotional intelligence.

Here are just 3 ways emotional intelligence and transformational leadership are related:


Research has found that possessing higher levels of emotional intelligence increases trust within working relationships*. This means that emotionally intelligent leaders are more likely to be trusted and respected by the people in their team. In turn, this creates an organisational environment where trust is intrinsic, rather than being reliant on agreements and contracts**. This trust is an essential part of transformational leadership as it helps people to feel safe and encourages teams to work together towards a common goal.


One of the core elements of transformational leaders is their ability to inspire and motivate others. Research has found that inspirational motivation is significantly correlated with emotional intelligence, specifically the ability to both monitor and manage emotions in oneself and others***. This means that leaders can adopt a transformational leadership style by leveraging their emotional intelligence to create genuine excitement and enthusiasm amongst the people around them****. This relationship between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership offers leaders a tool for fostering a motivated and engaged team, ultimately boosting organisational success.


Studies show that both emotional intelligence and transformational leadership are positively associated with team commitment*****. In other words, leaders who possess high levels of emotional intelligence and adopt a transformational leadership style are more likely to establish a team of individuals who are involved and committed to the group. This team commitment, in turn, becomes a driving force behind team performance******, emphasising the role of emotional intelligence and transformational leadership in shaping a team’s collective success over time.

So, if you want to cultivate a transformational leadership style in yourself and your team, developing emotional intelligence is a great place to start.

Find out more about emotional intelligence here.

*Cooper, R. K. (1997). Applying emotional intelligence in the workplace. Training & Development, 51(12), 31–39.

**Kumar, S. (2014). Establishing linkages between emotional intelligence and transformational leadership. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, 23(1), 1.


***Palmer, B. R., Walls, M. L., Burgess, Z., & Stough, C. (2001). Emotional intelligence and effective leadership. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 22(1), 5–10.


****Brief, A. P., & Weiss, H. M. (2002). Organizational behavior: affect in the workplace. Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1), 279–307.


*****Schlechter, A. F., & Strauss, J. J. (2008). Leader emotional intelligence, transformational leadership, trust and team commitment: Testing a model within a team context. Sa Journal of Industrial Psychology, 34(1).


******Neininger, A., Lehmann‐Willenbrock, N., Kauffeld, S., & Henschel, A. (2010). Effects of team and organizational commitment – A longitudinal study. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 76(3), 567–579.

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